As explained by the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care, spirituality is how people “seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value or transcendence” It refers to ways of finding ultimate meaning by connecting with, for example, family, community, or nature.
Recently, a study led by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests that spirituality should be incorporated into both serious illness and general health care, which researchers published in JAMA magazine.
In this way, the study ensures that spirituality “is important for many patients when thinking about their health”, and that focusing on spirituality in health care “means caring for the person as a whole, not only to his disease,” says Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School. It is the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic review of health and spirituality to date.
The findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and health “should be a vital part of future comprehensive person-centered care,” so the results should stimulate further debate and progress on how to incorporate spirituality in this type of value-sensitive care, the researchers stress.
Attendance at religious services is associated with a healthier life
To see how spirituality affects illness care, experts systematically identified and reviewed the highest-quality evidence on spirituality in serious illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022.
Of the 8,946 articles they screened related to serious illness, 371 met the study requirements, as did 215 of the 6,485 articles focused on health outcomes. Subsequently, they focused on reviewing the strongest collective evidence and offered consensus implications for health and healthcare.
The study represented a diversity of spiritual or religious viewpoints, such as non-religious spiritual, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, various Christian denominations, and Hindus.
It is necessary to become aware of spirituality to improve health
As the experts pointed out, for healthy people, attendance to religious services is associated with a healthier life. These people reported greater longevity, less depression, less suicide, and less substance use.
Therefore, for many patients, spirituality is important and influences key disease outcomes such as quality of life and health care decisions. Also, the implications of the consensus believe that spirituality should be considered as part of patient-centered health care.
Experts also believe it is important for there to be a greater awareness among physicians and health professionals of the protective benefits of spiritual community involvement.
With these data, the researchers say that simply asking about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centered, value-sensitive care
“Overlooking spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the health care system and the doctors trying to care for them, so integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance at complete wellness, and the highest level of health possible”, the scientists conclude.